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21 November 2009

Leonard Cohen: Poet, in a younger prime

The documentary is called Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen.

This will expire soon — as will we — so watch. That’s the point, isn’t it?

UPDATED NOVEMBER 25, 2009: I’ve just found a suitably anecdotal quote that will serve as something of a replacement for when this video’s been taken down a few days from now.

    “I interviewed Leonard Cohen at every opportunity, including at the Zen Center on the edge of the tiny resort village of Mount Baldy, outside of Los Angeles. It was 1995 and Leonard had been living in a cabin no larger than a budget motel for about two years, so involved in the center’s lifestyle that he got up every morning at 3:00 a.m. to begin preparing the day’s first meal for Joshu Roshi, a spiritual leader. After our talk, Leonard, who had traded in his stylish suits for modest robes, invited me to stay for lunch, which was one of his soup specialities. I watched him labor over the various vegetables for more than an hour until he was satisfied. Afterward, he walked me to my car. When I opened the trunk, he noticed an open package of Fig Newtons that I kept for an occasional treat. Eyeing them, Leonard, speaking in a slow, deliberate style that seemed in keeping with the Zen Center itself, asked ever so politely, ‘Could I have one of those Fig Newtons?’ Being the generous guy that I am, I offered him the whole package. ‘Oh, no,’ he said, pointing to his spartan lifestyle. ‘Just one will be fine.’ As I drove away, I could see in the rear view mirror that he was staring fondly at it, presumably thinking about whether to take a bite now or save it for later.”

From Robert Hilburn‘s Corn Flakes with John Lennon

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5 November 2009

Julian Casablancas, before & after

In their not-so-complimentary review of Julian Casablancas’ solo debut, Pitchfork pointed to this fierce 2002 performance from the David Letterman show by his band The Strokes.

My lord.

They point, then, to this narcotized looking performance from last week’s Conan O’Brien show.

My lord. For very different reasons.

As one of the commenters on The Strokes video put it:

    Dear The Strokes,
    Please find it again.
    Sincerely, All your fans

A few days ago I complained about emeritus rock critic Robert Hilburn’s “limitations as he contended with newer pop stars.” I try not to put musicians on a pedestal, but maybe it’s the newer pop stars who have limitations.

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2 November 2009

What happened to Robert Hilburn’s rock’n’roll heroes?


I have a soft spot in my heart for Los Angeles Times emeritus pop critic Robert Hilburn. Back when I spent more time writing about music than enabling its makers to make a career at it, Bob was kind enough to invite me to the newspaper’s dining hall for a pep talk. He eventually commissioned me to write a handful of articles for the paper and provided some general life encouragement, but I was less thankful for his professional assistance than for his being. His sunny, angst-free demeanor and real enthusiasm for the soundtrack of his life was clear and real. He provided a ray of light at the end of the long tunnel that is freelancer life.

But what is Hilburn’s legacy as a critic? I have mixed feelings. His Wikipedia entry gives a good summary of his critical philosophy. (Unlike many pop critics he definitely had one.):

    If you took away as few as four dozen artists from that endless row of dominoes, rock would have collapsed as an art form. Imagine your record collection without Bob Dylan, the Beatles or U2. Because of that, he felt one of the main challenges of a critic was to focus on those musicians who contributed to expanding that art form.

This approach has its problems, however, which this summary also articulates.

    In search of those artists, [Hilburn] says he frequently ended up writing about false promises; artists who ran out of ideas, self-destructed or compromised their music in hopes of wider sales. But he was also fortunate enough to connect with the most important artists of the rock era.

Basically there was something about Bob’s warm, humanistic approach to music appreciation that caused him to vacillate between getting hoodwinked by hype and falling in love with his subjects.

Well, Bob — having accepted a buyout from the LA Times in 2005 — has spent the last few years writing a book, the just published Corn Flakes with John Lennon: And Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life, and that’s led to some deeper analysis of how useful his critical approach is circa 2009.
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